MADISON - After seeing his team lose on a Hail Mary fling against Michigan State, coach Bret Bielema addressed the team the following Sunday by pointing out a number of things that Wisconsin had done in the past and why that would give them success in the future.
The success still hasn’t come. Another week brought another special teams faux pas and a late defensive breakdown and suddenly, the Badgers have become a Big Ten afterthought.
“Big picture, I went around the room and talked about taking things personally,” Bielema said. “As a man, a lot of times guys take things to heart things what they really believe to be a big part of who they are and what they are. I kind of stressed for us to get where we need to be, whether you are playing good ball, whether you didn’t do well, take personally what you do and try to carry that forward to help the team.”
It’s a big reason why members of the now 19th-ranked Wisconsin football team are in for another long week as they prepare to host Purdue Saturday, especially the offensive line. Known for being able to create running lanes big enough to drive a small truck through, Wisconsin managed little on the ground, as Ohio State allowed only two runs over five yards and gave nothing to the Badgers on the edges.
“Ohio State is Ohio State,” Bielema said. “They’ve got good defensive linemen. They won their fair share (of battles). One thing our offensive linemen always prided themselves on how they play as a whole. As a group, that (success) wasn’t there and that was a big factor in the game.”
The real problem, however, was again mistakes in the secondary that led to a late touchdown that won the game for a UW opponent. Watching the film, Bielema acknowledged that the Badgers’ issues have become two things. One has been wrong alignment or assignment and the other has been a lack of communication between players.
Tackling hasn’t been great either, as Wisconsin missed five tackles on Ohio State’s final kickoff return, giving the Buckeyes field position at their own 48 instead of the 25 where the first missed tackle occurred.
“Everything is magnified 100 times over after a loss,” Bielema said. “We have to be aware of as coaches that guys fatigue and we don’t have a lot of depth.”
After Wisconsin’s last three game losing streak in 2008, Bielema injected a heavy dose of accountability on and off the field into the players of his program. Following what has transpired over the last 10 days with similar issues, accountability, he assured, isn’t lacking.
“There are things to fix,” Bielema said. “There are always things to fix. There are things to fix in a win. There are things to fix in a loss. In regards to accountability, our team as a group, especially our leaders, have high accountability and that is going to help us rebound and come back after these two losses.”
As one of the captains on the team, senior Russell Wilson doesn’t plan on letting anybody slip into a negative state.
“We’ve got to move on,” Wilson said. “We lost a tough game again and it was one of those where it could have gone either way. We have another opportunity this week, playing a good team in Purdue and we’re excited about it.”
One of the biggest criticisms that Wisconsin’s offense faced for putting up video game numbers was the fact that the Badgers hadn’t played a true road game, let alone one against a ranked opponent. Two road night games later, the Badgers’ offense has come down to Earth, but only slightly.
Entering this week, the Badgers rank second in the country in third-down percentage, converting 54 of their 97 attempts (55.7 percent). Two weeks ago, the Badgers led the country in that area, but have gone 10 for their last 24.
“I still think we are doing job of converting and making plays when we need to, but there’s that little thing that we are missing, whatever it is,” Wilson said. “We have to make sure we capitalize on it.”
After trailing Ohio State, 26-14, with 4:39 left, Wilson engineered back-to-back scoring drives that were each less than 120 seconds, going 68 yards in 44 seconds and 1:18 seconds, begging the question why the Badgers don’t play with that sense of urgency more often.
One thing is for sure, the confidence in the huddle has never wavered.
“We’ve been really calm and relaxed in trusting what we know and getting first downs,” Wilson said. “When we see an opportunity, one of those game altering plays like (Jared Abbrederis) catching those touchdowns, (those are) big times plays that you can’t miss on and we capitalized on those.
“I don’t ever believe we are out of it … that we can’t come back until the clock says zero.”
Wisconsin needs help
No longer able to control its own fate for making it to the second straight Rose Bowl, Wisconsin – sitting 1-1 in Leaders divisional play – ideally needs to win its remaining four games (vs. Purdue, crossover at Minnesota, at Illinois, vs. Penn State) and need the Buckeyes to lose once more and Nittany Lions to lose twice including to UW in the regular season finale.
Heading into its bye week, Penn State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) is the only undefeated Big Ten team left.
Bielema kept with the ‘1-0’ motto and said he hasn’t pointed out to his players that there still is a path back to Pasadena, saying it’s not an issue he and his team openly discuss. As the head coach, however, Bielema was forthcoming in saying he does a lot of pre planning behind closed doors, including looking at separate scenarios.
“As a head coach, that’s part of my responsibility,” said Bielema, alluding also to how the Badgers will replace Montee Ball and Peter Konz should they decide to go to the pros after this season. “I am responsible for everything we do and for me not to have that in the back of my mind is wrong.”
Still, it’s hard for the head coach to deny how the mood of the season has changed.
“You’re within a play or two, arguably, in each game of winning them,” Bielema said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that 8-0 sounds better than 6-2. For whatever reason, you are going to take these things and they are going to define who you are and what you want to be.
“It’s not like we embarrassed ourselves the last two weeks. I understand why people are upset and believe me, there is nobody more upset than me. We lost a couple games on heartaches that will last for lifetime but in the end, it makes all of us stronger.”
Extra Points: The time for the Minnesota-Wisconsin game in Minneapolis won’t be announced until next Monday at the latest, according to the Big Ten … Montee Ball is looking to become first player to lead in scoring in back-to-back years since IND's Anthony Thompson … Bielema had no real injury updates other than junior defensive end David Gilbert possibly being available at the end of the week.
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